There aren't many places one can call home, but actually I have two. My first home, as you know, is Venice, where I was born and bred and still live with my very (proud) Venetian husband; the other one is Dublin, where my mother is from and my family lives. When I was a child, I used to spend all my summer and Christmas holidays at my Nana's house, a beautiful two storey villa with front and back garden in the Ballsbridge neighborhood, only 10 minutes from Dublin Bay and the small town of Sandymount, where once upon a time, my grandfather Tom had a fruit and vegetable shop, which today is a lovely bookstore named 'Books on the Green '.
I know the city relatively well and if there is one thing I really love about it, it is its people. Generosity and warmth would definitely be the two adjective I’d choose to describe the Irish, but I would also add pride, strength and creativity. Food wise, for years I have heard my Italian friends say that Ireland is not a destination for gourmets, but to be honest with you, I disagree. Every country has its own specialties, and Ireland is no less.
As George Orwell wrote in his wonderful essay 'In defence of English Cooking', I have to say that Irish cooking too is simply incredible. It is homey, tasty and comforting, all at the same time. Many are the things I look forward to eating whenever I get to visit my family: the butter, the cakes, the desserts, the freshly baked loaves of bread and all the stews and pies. Mouthwatering and delicious. As for my husband, he is always eager to undertake a beer and whiskey tasting (among his preferred whiskeys, Yellow Spot and Green Spot). While, with regard to myself, one of my dreams is to attend the baking course at The Firehouse School on the island of Heir in County Cork (just in case anyone -mother...- needed suggestions for my upcoming birthday present...).
Local Irish food is just great: exquisite dairy products, freshly caught fish, usually breaded and fried or smoked, super flavourful herbs and salads, an infinite variety of edible flowers and, of course, potatoes, in whatever way they are prepared. In general, the perfumes and images I tend to associate with Ireland are the ones of freshly cut grass, of drizzle and mist, of the fresh and salty air of the sea, and, last but not least, of scones, butter, raspberry jam and black tea.
Ireland offers really a lot, and plenty are the indoor and outdoor activities for anyone into natural life, wilderness, arts and poetry. In this post, though, I only have the space to share some tips addressed to curious, independent and easy-going travellers that have less than a week to spend in and around Dublin, so if any of you needs extra advice or would like to add something of their own to my words, please feel free to drop me an email or leave a comment at the bottom of the post, I would be delighted to hear from you!
Dublin is quite small. If you are visiting for the first time, stay in the centre, explore the old town on foot and take the DART train for a visit to one of the smaller cities located along the coast. Whether you opt for the fishermen village of Howth, the small town of Dalkey with its beautiful island, Malahide and its Castle, or Bray in Co. Wicklow (great for kids), I'm sure you will love it! If you are staying for at least five days, do consider hiring a car and heading to the country. My favourite destination, the West (especially Galway and the Aran islands).
With regard to food, portions are big (a main is usually enough), a regular American coffee is twice the size the one we serve in Italy and if you don't want butter on your toast, say it immediately! If you are on a budget, for dinner consider opting for the early-bird menu, while vegetarians and vegans don't have to worry as in recent time many are the lovely cafeterias and restaurants offering specific menus (I really like the Tang Cafe in Dawson Street), with organic and locally sourced produce!
Please remember that people are hyper-friendly, so a nice Hello and Good-Bye when entering a shop/bar is always appreciated! Don't worry if a total stranger starts calling you 'Love' (pronounced luv) or 'Sweetheart', it's normal! And, if you don't understand the accent... try harder!
(Just some of the) Best Things to Do:
Please consider that it would be impossible to list all there is to do, so here are my favourites!
- National Gallery of Art: not only Irish art, but also a stunning Caravaggio, a Vermeer and, to link to my other city, Venetian painters like Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and Canaletto.
- Trinity College and the Books of Kells: a visit to the old library and the renowned Book of Kells is just a must. The magical atmosphere of the high rooms and the perfume so typical of ancient books and manuscript won't leave you indifferent!
- Chester Beatty Library: hosting the most important collection of ancient manuscripts and rare books, it was described by the Lonely Planet as one of the best museums in Europe.
- Marsh Library: the smallest library in Dublin, it is a little jewel located just next to Saint Patrick's cathedral
- Saint Stephen's Green and Herbert Park: these are just two of the many parks in the city. Beautiful and relaxing green areas where you will see people having their lunch break, going for a walk and letting their kids run and (hopefully) get tired!
Suggested Day Trips from Dublin City:
-In addition to the previously mentioned Howth, Dalkey and Killarney, all reachable by Dart, I also suggest visiting:
- National Stud: horse breeding facility where you can visit the beautiful Japanese Gardens.
My Favourite Spots for Food in Dublin City:
For a sweet treat I just love the Queen of Tarts, where I was first brought by my uncle Tom. For lunch/dinner in town I really like The Woolen Mills, The Farm, Stone at Rustic, The Winding Stair and Fallon & Byrne.
For an easy going ethnic lunch I often opt for the cafeteria of The Chester Beatty Library and on Saturdays I really enjoy the The Farmers Market in Temple Bar, where Vito and I never fail to have breakfast with local oysters and sweet wine!
I hope I made you a little curious about this amazing country called Ireland! Just remember to bring a good wind jacket and an umbrella as you'll experience the four seasons all in one day!
Bye for now and see you back in Venice very very soon!